Hari Shankar
Feb 16, 2012

OPINION: Searching the mind of the world

Hari Shankar, Asia-Pacific director at Performics, gazes in awe at the 'auto-complete' terms appearing in his search-engine bar, and the profound implications this form of real-time meme propagation may have for marketers.

OPINION: Searching the mind of the world

Just a few days ago, when the heartthrob of millions around the world and arguably one of the most captivating voices of pop passed away, I scrambled to the ubiquitous Google search bar. And just as I typed the second letter of the diva’s name, as usual, I beheld a generous combination of phrases (and statements) in the form of a drop down, and with a few muffled words of gratitude I hit one of the phrases that essentially condensed the thought pattern in my mind in to a few words in English.

Honestly, I detest myself for taking the name of a personality who I have utmost adoration for to drive home a point, but the fact remains that it is the matrimony between data and semantic algorithms that made this invisible but gigantic engine a reality. And this invisible engine is generally christened by the simple term ‘auto-complete,’ which when coupled with real-time results becomes the auto-complete—instant.

So why am I rambling about this particular feature, which has been existent in search engines for a while, albeit not for a long while?

Evolution of the memes

The definition of 'meme' as per Wikipedia is "an idea, behavior or style that spreads from person to person within a culture.” This term, derived from Ancient Greek, essentially stands for evolution and propagation of the strongest concepts or ideas, akin to the role of genes in evolution, where the strongest genes spread across generations.

Although the concept of ‘Internet memes’ depicts the same concept based on creation and viral propagation of content, the context of the usage of memes, as far as I am concerned, is the creation (or triggering) of a thought, which in turn becomes an information-collection requirement, which in turn becomes expressed in written language. And when the same thought trigger gets expressed by so many people in such a multitude of written phrases and statements that it attains critical mass, this provides huge potential for broadcast and propagation.

When a search engine discerns such a pattern that has attained critical mass, and brings it to the masses through auto-complete using predictive algorithms, then this huge potential becomes a reality, because users who have the same information requirement immediately get to see their needs automatically expressed via multiple statements or phrases, even before they finish typing in the first word in the search bar.

The ripples become progressively larger when more and more individuals with the same requirement type in a word in the search bar and get to engage with the auto-complete options that the search engine readily provides. What has happened is the creation and spread of a meme in the true sense indeed.

Search meme: A user perspective

I am confident that most (if not all) of the readers of this column make a bee-line for Google for a plethora of reasons: soon after consuming an interesting news piece, while watching the latest news updates, after hearing about a global or local incident from your peers that is of interest to you, to get an immediate answer to a question that suddenly loomed in your mind, to check the meaning of a difficult word, even to prove a point after a fiery debate with your boss.

These are behavioral traits that did not exist a few years ago because the requirement (or want) that occurs soon after each of those environmental triggers had a very well-defined destination. Example included your favorite news website or a specialized vertical portal or a favorite dictionary online or a preferred community ‘Answers’ site. But in today’s world, if I were to take the Google experience as a case in point, the user is presented with a bouquet of rich, personalized and predictive search results that not only crunches the 'need-creation to satiation’ window but also gives an array of related meme 'strains’ that can in turn plant a new seed of thought in the searcher’s mind (in true-blue meme way). Examples may be found all around you only if you pay closer attention when you hit the Google bar the next time. As for me, with a heavy heart after soaking my Bold 9900 in a downpour, I hit the search bar with the intention of looking for a second-hand blackberry and ended up searching for a book that I was keenly looking out for, triggered by the meme that Google threw at me (refer below).

                   

Search meme: A marketer perspective

I found myself laughing loud as I read through this article (see the context below) yesterday, even though I am in the thick of this industry, because I continue to be truly amazed by the power of this invisible platform, which is able to churn out the thought patterns that have attained critical mass on an almost real-time basis. In this case, the strain was what people in the US actually thought of the presidential possibilities.

While I do not want to delve deeper into what the election camps may be thinking at the moment, the writing on the wall, clearly is the underlying raw power of platforms like Google that progressively might have the muscle to ‘turn the tides’ in favor (or against) a candidate even before the actual election transpires. It's yet another true-blue manifestation of the meme, powered by the algorithms of a platform that increasingly has all things ‘social’ being built into its results. (And this causes digression from normal search behavior through presentation of associated or disjointed thoughts in the process. But I digress).

Of course, for every enhancement that is aimed toward bettering a situation, there are always pitfalls given the massive scope and possibilities that enhancements bring into being, and this includes many incidents where sentiments were affected and lawsuits were initiated against the search engine, which was merely pulling out the sentiment in the form of ‘predictive suggestions’.

In conclusion

The scope this column falls grievously short of the possibilities that such advances can usher in, but the strong under-currents, as far as I can see, signal a slow but sure change in the way the world is influenced by the world and also the fact that one does not need to wander much beyond the search engine bar to understand the patterns in the ‘world mind’.

That, according to me, is the true power of search that is social and social that is search.

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